State of the Cubs: Catcher

State of the Cubs: Catcher
October 5, 2013, 5:15 pm
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Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki

The Cubs are searching for their next manager and focusing on ex-catchers – Joe Girardi and Sandy Alomar Jr. – at a time when that might be the organization’s biggest weakness.

Welington Castillo made big strides this year, positioning himself as a potential part of The Core, though not completely erasing the doubts about his game-calling ability. Dioner Navarro proved to be an ideal backup catcher and probably priced himself out of Chicago.

[RELATED: Cubs front office believes the foundation has been laid]

Girardi Watch continued Saturday with the New York Yankees waiting to see how their manager – who’s under contract through Oct. 31 – responds to a multi-year offer believed to be worth around $4 million or $5 million annually.

The next manager – especially if it’s Girardi or Alomar, the Cleveland Indians bench coach – can shape what the Cubs do behind the plate.

[RELATED: Cubs know what to look for in next manager]

Throughout October, CSNChicago.com will take state-of-the-organization snapshots, rewinding the 2013 season and looking ahead to the future, trying to figure out what’s next for the Cubs.    

On the radar: Sources said the front office will be exploring upgrades at catcher this winter as they try to collect more left-handed bats, boost their on-base percentage and add lead-by-example veterans to the clubhouse. Team president Theo Epstein said the Cubs might have room for only one high-impact free agent. Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be the big names on the market. It will get complicated if/when the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox give them qualifying offers. American League teams (using the DH spot as insurance) and new television money could drive the prices well beyond their range. But Epstein once traded for Saltalamacchia and is said to think highly of the 28-year-old catcher.

By the numbers: At the age of 26, Castillo turned a corner in the second half, drawing 21 walks – he only had one through May 22 – and finishing with a .288/.388/.475 line after the All-Star break. He posted a 4.4 WAR, which ranked 21st overall in the National League and behind only St. Louis Cardinals All-Star Yadier Molina (ninth) and San Francisco Giants MVP Buster Posey (14th) among catchers. According to FanGraphs, Castillo’s 19 defensive runs saved was tops among all catchers in the majors.

Backup plan: Navarro capitalized on his one-year, $1.75 million deal, generating 13 homers and an .856 OPS, which was almost 100 points better than his previous career high. Pitchers liked throwing to Navarro, who enjoyed his best season since his 2008 All-Star campaign with the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s easy to envision him going somewhere that can guarantee more money and more playing time.

[MORE: Theo says Cubs job will sell itself]

X-factors: The Cubs know they have to get creative – and probably get lucky – to find some more internal options. Four players in particular – Ben Carhart, Gioskar Amaya, Giuseppe Papaccio and Jordan Hankins – are supposed to be exposed to catcher during instructional league in Arizona. A converted player could have a nice opportunity to move through the system.  

The quote: “I know he can get on a lot of people’s nerves. But I kind of understood him the best and he knew I wasn’t going to play around with him. I wasn’t going to bullcrap him. I was going to tell him the truth (and) he was going to take it like a man.” – Navarro on his reputation as a Garza whisperer after his boy Matt was traded to the Texas Rangers in July.